A single-engine Mooney plane crashed into an OB-GYN clinic adjacent to the Watsonville Community Hospital on Thursday night, killing the two people aboard the plane, authorities reported.
The small aircraft collided into the "front corner of " at Airport Boulevard and Nielson Street at 7:29 p.m., according to emergency radio traffic.
"Witnesses saw a plane nosedive and not come back up," dispatchers said.
The hospital and adjoining medical offices are a few hundred yards from the Watsonville Municipal Airport runway. It wasn't immediately clear what caused the four-seater plane to go down, and late Thursday, officials said they did not know if the plane was in the process of landing or taking off, but at least one passing motorist saw the plane fall from the sky.
"We just know there was difficulty," Watsonville Police Chief Manny Solano said.
The plane clipped a small tree in the parking lot, hit the pavement abut 50 feet from the building and then careened into the building, police said.
The wings sheared off, and the plane burst into flames on impact. A third of the plane's fuselage and its tail, both blackened with char, stuck out of the front of the medical office.
"It hit before the building and slid into the building," Deputy Watsonville Police Chief Rudy Escalante said.
The office had been closed about two hours prior to the crash. However, police didn't know if anyone was inside the building at the time.
Watsonville firefighters put out the flames.
The FAA is is charge of the scene, and two local investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were expected to arrive from the San Francisco Bay Area by midnight to handle the investigation.
The identities of those aboard have not been released. About 400 pilots are based out of the Watsonville airport.
"It's possible that they may be local. We are not sure," Solano said.
The plane is a 1974 M20F model made by Mooney, but the tail number on the rear of the plane—essentially the license plate for the aircraft—was burned beyond recognition, police said. That will make it more difficult to identify those involved.
The coroner arrived just before 10 p.m. City officials, including City Manager Carlos Palacios, Mayor Daniel Dodge and Vice Mayor Eduardo Montesino also were at the scene.
Hospital CEO Joe Dale has released a statement asking that people not congregate at the crash site. Neighborhood residents stood by for the first couple hours after the crash to watch emergency workers and the media frenzy, and some residents said they were frightened that this happened so close to their homes.
Christy Latham, a dental assistant who works for Dr. Fern Lee, one door down from the clinic that was hit, rushed from Prunedale to see what had happened. She had left the office two hours before the plane went down.
"I'm a little shocked right now," Latham said. "I feel bad for the lives that were lost."
Dale asked people stay clear of the area. However, the hospital is open, and Dale offered reassurance that while there is smoke in the building, the office wing's ventilation system is completely separate from patients.
"Patients were not affected by this incident," Escalante said.
Joe Shelton, a Watsonville pilot on hand, told Patch that Mooney is a type of plane usually flown only by experienced pilots, but he added that it's an easy plane to fly.
"This is an unusual situation," he said, looking out at the wreck. "I think it's just an accident."
Don French, the retiring airport manager, said, "anytime a plane crashes, you know, it's a sad event. But statistically planes are safe."
He said pilots "are not suicidal" and that whoever was in the cockpit of the downed plane would have tried to avoid the crash.
Some speculated what caused the plane to nosedive.
"This is a bad mistake. ... He was probably idling back, coming in nice and slow," said Stuart Gordon, a pilot from Boulder Creek who was working in South County Thursday and stopped by to see what had happened.
"My guess is the airplane wasn't really going that fast," Shelton, the other pilot said. "... It evidently was either landing or taking off from here (the Watsonville airport)."
The preliminary crash report, completed by the NTSB, should be finished in about a week, but the full investigation typically takes six to eight months.